International Harvests

On a windy winter day in Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River, I had the privilege of hearing about Isbell Farms from Mark Isbell.  My time with Mark proved once again what I regularly tell people about farmers:  "When you stand next to a farmer you're going to get smarter!" Follow along as Mark guides us on a fascinating agricultural journey of international harvests from Arkansas to Cuba and beyond.

Family Farm versus Corporate Farm: What's the difference?

Mark began our conversation by giving us the history of Isbell Farms and explaining why many people are confused by the terms "Family Farm" and "Corporate Farm."  


Our visit led into questions about sustainability. I hear that word often and asked Mark to speak in greater detail about what has motivated the sustainable movement and how their farm has used advanced technology and accumulated knowledge to become more efficient. 

What Happened to Crop Rotation?

Mark shared specific sustainable practices that have evolved through the four generations of farmers at Isbell Farms.  I found it interesting when he explained that, along with the sustainable practices of zero grade rice and AWD, they are in the process of perfecting the use of cover crops to enhance the soil.  He helped me understand why the best stewardship of some land types is often planting the same crop year after year rather than rotating crops. 

Ethical Farming: Holding Onto Family Values

Even though Isbell Farms is a large family operation, Mark explained how his family still holds the same ethical farming values for sustainability as we remember former generations representing.  

American Rice Exports

Mark lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and chose this location along the river since a large percentage of American rice is exported.  Do you know how much rice America exports around the world and how integral agriculture is to the country's job market?  

Why would a farmer from Arkansas be concerned about what people in Cuba eat?  

Mark, who was named Rice Farmer of the Year in 2016, is working hard to transform the economic relationship between Cuba and America.  He believes in using the food market as an invitation to the table even between governments who don't agree on much of anything.  After joining Congressman Rick Crawford (AR) as part of a delegation sent to Cuba, Mark testified to the US House Committee on Agriculture in support of the  Cuba Agricultural Exports Act.  He explained his position while we visited.  

Global Marketing

Farmers are uniquely positioned to intimately know the land and fully invest in the global market.  Watch as Mark explains how he navigates these two worlds.

Number Five

My visit with Mark was enlightening and engaging as we touched on many issues faced by American farmers.  Isbell Farms is on the cutting edge of these issues as they are committed to feeding the world's growing population while caring for the land to pass along to its fifth generation.  

Women in Agriculture: McGehee Producers Gin

guest post by Donna Watts of McGehee Producers Ginn

Team Work

‘Women in Ag’ these days does not necessarily mean that you are married to a farmer.  I am a cotton ginner.  I am proud to be a part of McGehee Producers Gin.  I have always said that success is only possible when you have a group of people who are as dedicated to the job as you are.  Let me start out by saying that my co-workers are family to me.  The five of us have been working together for more than twenty years, one of them being my husband of 31 years. We have seen changes in the ginning industry and are fortunate enough to have leaders that make these changes become a reality in the way our gin is updated and maintained.  We have seen lean years and we have seen abundant years.  We employ between 35-40 workers during ginning season, which this year started on Sept. 13 and ended Dec. 18.  At the beginning of each season I always think of Matt 9:37 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” 

Ginning Season

My responsibilities are numerous.  In the off season I am pretty much free to come and go, but once the gin cranks up, I am there for the duration.  I am responsible for the day to day operations of the office.  During ginning season, I turn into Gin Mama!   Ginning season has always been my favorite time of the year, and when it quits being rewarding is when I will hang up my hat.  I complain about the hours and no time to spend at home with the dogs, no time to clean house, no time to cook a decent meal, no time to go anywhere or do anything, and the fact that there is no time for anything but go home, eat, sleep, and get up and do it all over again, and again, and again.  I am rewarded, though, with the friendships I have made, and the respect that I have earned from my co-workers, the producers, the truck drivers, my bankers, and all those who I am in contact with on a daily basis.

Details Matter

During the ginning season, my job is to see that the producers' modules have been entered into our system and the weight for each module is entered. After the bales are ginned, I check to make sure each bale has been posted to the correct farm.  I send a file to the warehouse where our weights are compared.  Once we are satisfied, the electronic warehouse receipts (EWR) are issued to me as the holder.  The process is sort of like handling a car title.  The EWR is transferred from me to the marketer, then to the buyer.  At the end of the season, once all business for the year has been concluded, we return money to the producer and his landlords in the form of a per bale gin rebate.  This is very nerve racking, as I have to see that all information on both the producer and the landlord along with all addresses, tax id numbers, and percentages are correct.  Once that is out of my hands, I can start to breathe again. 


Another duty is payroll.  If you have never done payroll for 35-40 people, you should do it just once.  I manually add up the time cards, then use my Quickbooks program.  I enter time, print checks, sign them pass them out, and pray that everyone’s is correct.  This process usually takes a couple of hours to complete, that is, if the phone leaves me alone.

Grand Central Station

We gin for the cottonseed and store it in three seed houses.  When the contracts are filled, the seed tickets are invoiced and mailed.  Our scales stay busy.  At any given time, there may be three module trucks that belong to the gin, a seed truck, weighing both empty, then full, three trailers that carry eight round modules coming from Leland and Greenville, MS, three trucks carrying 8 rounds from Indianola, MS, two trucks with dual trailers carrying 9 rounds each from England, AR, and one truck carrying 8 rounds that hauls from the Star City, AR area.  That, along with local cattle ranchers who come by for cottonseed to feed with, the scales keep the office help hopping.

By The Dawn's Early Light

I work seven days a week during the season.  I try to get to the gin by 7am, as there is always something to do as soon as I get there.  Sunday mornings are my early days.  Sunday is Safety Meeting Day.  I am the Gin Safety Director and it is up to me to see that our employees are informed, trained, and provided with the safest environment possible to work in. 

Safety First

We have regulations that are set by Southern Cotton Ginners Association and it is my job to see that we are in compliance.  Our yearly inspections have always been rewarding and I have the highest regard and deepest respect for our Safety Director in Memphis.  We have received awards for 'Safety' and 'No Lost Time' each year since 2005 when I assumed the responsibility.  This year, we have received the Diamond Award again which is the highest award possible.  This is the third consecutive year for the Diamond.


Work Hard, Play Hard

In my “spare” time when I just feel the need to escape the office, my favorite activity is to paint on the round modules that are facing the highway.  I am a huge Razorback fan, so we get out there with our module paint and start decorating.  I’m not an artist, so I always inlist the help of Donnie Peacock to draw what we lovingly call the “jumping hog”.  People stop and take pictures and sometimes it leads to them asking questions that result in what I call my fifty cent tour. 

The 50 Cent Tour

I love to take people through the gin and explain the cotton ginning process to people who have never seen cotton and think that everything is just blown out the back.  It’s amazing to hear where they are from and how they ended up in McGehee, AR. 

Love What You Do

I love my job.  I love the sights and the sounds.  I love the people I work with.  I love riding in (and sometimes driving) the module trucks.  I love the smell of fresh cotton being ginned---- and no---- “Clean Cotton” does not smell like those candles with that label.  I love the technology.  I love the bonds that are formed and I especially love the fact that I have been entrusted with this job which literally puts people’s livelihood in my hands.

Women In Agriculture: Ryane Miles Married into Farming

Ryane Miles is a courageous young woman who took on an adventurous new culture, job and lifestyle when she married Layne Miles.  That's what women in ag do!


Ryane did not grow up around agriculture but has been on a learning curve sense she met Layne.  With wisdom and grace she listens and asks questions to understand this new world.  Guided by her experienced mother-in-law Sherrie Miles, Ryane puts her knowledge to work as she contributes to the growing family farming operation.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the next generation of farmers, and we could not be more hopeful about the future of agriculture!   

Women in Agriculture: Sherrie Miles of Miles Farms

Sherrie Miles is running a corporation!  


You may not realize that modern farming operations have to run more like corporations than ever before. The profit margins are so small that in order to stay in business, family farms must grow and expand to be sustainable.

Starting Young

Hear from Sherrie Miles of Miles Farms as she explains her integral role and how she began her "career" as a 13 year old!  She is a terrific model of a strong, intelligent woman in the field of agriculture.

Rice and Waterfowl

Whitaker Farms loves wildlife!  Jim and Sam Whitaker go to great efforts to protect and care for the animals that enjoy their land.  

Plants and Animals - the Natural Partnership 

Often, if a field is not conducive to their commercial agriculture plan, they will release it as wildlife habitat which means they no longer farm that section of land and choose to let it develop back into forest or brush for animals.  Also, they create shallow water habitats from all their rice fields during the winter for the waterfowl to enjoy.  As Jim says, "Rice and waterfowl go hand in hand."  The Whitakers promote this partnership in many ways.  

A Field of Millet

I joined Jim recently in a field he had leveled for a zero-grade rice field for next year.  Since he didn't have time to make a rice crop on it this year, he planted millet there instead.  You and I might call millet a common weed, but ducks and deer love to eat it.  Watch this short clip to hear Jim talk about this and other land they develop for wildlife and the natural habitats they create and protect.  

Not the Story You Hoped to Tell

Maybe you didn’t put all your eggs in this one basket, and maybe you knew better than to hang all your hopes on this one deal.  But you were really hoping this one would go your way.  You worked hard.  You analyzed all the angles.  You invested energy, money and emotion in this one.  Turns out, your ship didn’t come in.  You’re disappointed and down.  This is not the story you hoped to tell.

What Now?

Keep plugging along?  Go back to the drawing board?  Change directions? 

Factors Out Of Our Control

Matt Miles was in the middle of the best cotton season he had seen in a while.  His fields were about a month away from harvesting when the weather took an unseasonably cool, wet turn.    August, which is typically the hottest and driest month of the year, brought 14 consecutive days of rainy, cloudy weather to southeast Arkansas.  There was nothing Matt could do about it and certainly no way to anticipate the anomaly.  

Basic Botany

While we all learn in elementary school that plants need water and sun to thrive, farmers know first-hand the effects of minor changes in the weather.  The young cotton bolls on Matt’s plants were at an early stage of development that requires consecutive hot, sunny days to expand into the full fluffy cotton that can be used in so many products.  Instead, there was damp, cool weather that stalled the bolls’ development and even mold and rot on the stem.  Matt lost 30-40% of his cotton.  In just a few short weeks, his year changed.  


Matt’s response:  Grateful and Hopeful.  Of course he is disappointed.  He had invested the same time, money and energy as always into the 2016 crop and had high hopes for a big harvest.  But he is also grateful for the excellent crop he had on his farm that was able to withstand the unpredictable weather.  And hopeful because he knows what it means to recover and “farm through” difficult years.

Long-term Perspective

This seasoned farmer has known disappointment like this before.  He's a courageous leader who has surrounded himself with good financial and scientific counsel.  Matt understands that a farming operation is not defined by one year:  not one good year or one bad year.  He has the perspective of time that has taught him to look at a 5-10 year business model to determine success.  

Looking Ahead

Matt’s a fighter.  He has been all his life.  He will survive.  He will trust.  He will get back on the horse and plant again next year.

Unexpected Joy

What about you?  How do you respond to disappointment?  Maybe you throw a tantrum or reach for your favorite comfort food or binge-watch Netflix.  Maybe you run it off at the gym or give yourself a timeout to regroup.  Whatever the strategy, we all must figure out how to push through disappointing seasons.  It’s often in these hard times that we remember our priorities and we rehearse the truth that it’s our response to our struggles that strengthens us not our avoidance of them.  That's the unexpected joy of maturity.

Changing with Grace

Change is often gradual and subtle. 


Right Before Your Eyes

You hardly realize the growth and development that is happening before your eyes.  Plants, animals, and even skylines are constantly changing with grace and beauty all around us.  


Crops Transform

A cotton plant grows deep roots and a sturdy stem.  The next thing you know, you see white blooms, then they turn pink.  Next, the bloom falls off to make a way for an emerging boll of cotton.


Time to Harvest

You drive by a field every day and one day you realize the bolls are opening and fluffy white cotton can be seen throughout the field.  Suddenly, it's harvest time and change is upon us again.  


Neighborhoods Transform

Our established, urban neighborhood here in Dallas is busy with renovation.  For years we have driven down the same residential streets and seen the same homes full of character and stories.  Lately, we drive down a familiar avenue and see a cleared lot where a bulldozer has just finished tearing down one of those old homes. 


Within a few weeks, a foundation is poured, a new home is built and a moving truck is unloading the new owners’ possessions.  The neighborhood changes again.  


Missed Opportunity

So many times in my life, change isn’t received with grace.  I often resist and work against the development.  I continue to try to stick to the old processes, digging in my heels, so things will stay the same.  In doing so, I miss the character that deepens in the process and the improvements that are enjoyed from the results.  


Be Kind to Yourself

By design, seeds must die before they sprout new life.  Leaving the old ways behind so that something new can sprout in one's life sometimes feels like death.  We have to shift our minds and emotions and bodies to align in a new direction for the fruits of change to blossom and bloom.  I know in my head that change is good and brings new opportunities.  But in hard moments of growth, I don’t always give myself grace for the journey.


Worth the Hard Work

Modern farmers can’t afford to dig in their heels and resist change.  They must stay on the cutting edge of science, conservation, technology and marketing in order to stay afloat.  “How can we do this better?” is a question they must ask themselves daily.  By regularly asking this question over the last 30 years, agricultural professionals have developed practices that conserve water, enrich the soil, reduce chemicals, and produce more yield with fewer inputs.  Now that kind of change is certainly worth all the hard work! 



Life is Messy

The process may not always be graceful to the outsider, but I like how Sam Whitaker speaks about their farming operation.  Whether it’s new farming practices they implement or financial growth strategies they analyze, Whitaker Farms looks at a five year picture of development to get accurate numbers and comparisons.  This perspective allows time get the kinks worked out of a new strategy.  Many of the steps along the journey will probably look messy to an outside observer— and maybe even to you.


Choose to Focus Ahead

Change is hard for some people, but hard doesn’t mean bad.  It’s in the challenging seasons that we build character, grow gratitude, increase perspective and strengthen perseverance.  Set your mind on the prize ahead and the journey will be worth it.  


The Most Sustainable Rice

Thanks to scientific developments and innovative practices Jim Whitaker's rice is some of the most sustainable rice in the country.  


He partners with many others to document and prove that his rice uses less water, reduces methane gas emissions and releases cleaner water back into natural habitats.  As a result, he will be one of the first recipients of carbon credits in the field of agriculture!  

Watch as he explains the specific practices that benefit us all.

The Combine and Other Farm Equipment

When I was young I loved riding on the combine with my dad.  

friends in front of a combine ready to harvest rice

friends in front of a combine ready to harvest rice

Impressive Equipment

My mom would pack a small ice chest of goodies and we would take it to my dad who was harvesting in the field.  I brought our lunch and got to stay with him for the afternoon.  Sitting on the arm of his seat or in his lap, I helped him drive that enormous piece of equipment!

from the cab of a combine harvesting corn

from the cab of a combine harvesting corn

Times Have Changed

Today, combines are equipped with state-of-the-art GPS technology that guides the operator down each row and ensures the combine remains on the correct path so none of the grain is missed.  Before GPS, however, it was imperative that the operator of the combine stay completely focused on the edge of the header so he wouldn’t leave any grain in the field and yet still have the most efficient use of the equipment.  

rice harvest

rice harvest


So, as I would chat with my dad and show him my treasures, he would say “I can listen, but I can’t look.  I have to watch the rice.”  Even though he would spend those long days in the cab not being physically active, he was mentally exhausted from the focus required to efficiently harvest the crop he had been patiently growing all season.  

a combine harvesting corn

a combine harvesting corn

Dozing Off

The warmth of the sun coming in the window, the steady rumbling of the engine and the mundane staring at the rice would put me to sleep every time.  As I began to get drowsy, I crawled on a little shelf right behind my dad and curled up for an afternoon nap.  It was kind of like a truck driver who sleeps in the cab of his truck.  My dad and I still enjoy those memories and wonder how I ever slept in such a small space.  I still doze off in the strangest places.  

a combine harveting rice

a combine harveting rice

Factors Out of Our Control

Many professionals today are able to get work done at all hours of the day and night.  Some people say their most productive times are during odd working hours.   With farming, however, the natural conditions most often control a farmer’s productivity.  When his crops are mature and ready to harvest, the farmer would love to work around the clock to get them out of the field to avoid any storm damage that may come.  Unfortunately, there’s a window of time each day when the crops are too moist to harvest because of the dew that develops.  The farmer must wait until the sun rises and dries the crops before he can begin harvesting each day.  

a combine harvesting soybeans

a combine harvesting soybeans

Into the Night

The dew doesn’t develop until late into the night, so I remember my dad and brothers turning on the headlights of the tractors and combines and harvesting until after midnight during the rush of harvest season.  Those were the days when the school year didn’t begin until after Labor Day and everyone was still on Summer Break when a majority of the harvesting was done.  

It Is Finished

Harvest is a time of accomplishment.  After all the planning and nurturing, the time has come to cross the finish line and complete the season.  What kind of yields will they make?  What about all the small decisions the farmer made throughout the growing season:  when to water, what fertilizer to use, what to do if it doesn't rain for weeks?  So many paths that could have been taken and now to see how it all turns out.  For the farmer, this is the most critical and exciting time of the year!




Cooling Off

Do you have trouble cooling off in the hot Summer months?  

So do the crops in the fields.  Watch today's video to hear Layne Miles explain the science behind plants needing to rest and how farmers can help them cool off during the extreme heat of Summer.  

Early Rice Harvest: So What's the Big Deal?

I’ve been posting all week about Jim’s early rice and you may be asking yourself “So what’s the big deal?  His rice was ready early, he harvested it and now it’s over.”  You’re right.  Those are the facts.  But like so many things we glimpse from the outside, there’s so much more going on if we take a closer look.

rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

Field Testing

Jim’s field represents 40 of only 2000 acres spread over 4 states in the southern U.S.  Crop Production Services, a company that uses their scientific knowledge to develop and test new varieties of seed, strategically selected a small group of trusted farmers from the mid-south to provide a sample of how this seed will produce in a variety of soil types.

Uniquely Designed

This rice seed was designed to have a couple of unique characteristics:  1.) a large, fluffy kernel that many American rice mills and consumers prefer  2.) a shorter growing season for the farmer.

flooding a rice field 

flooding a rice field 

Is Faster Always Better?

In our microwave society, we often think “faster is better”, but often for the wrong reasons.  For this new variety of rice, the shorter growing season results in the rice being ready to harvest sooner which allows the farmer to put fewer total inputs (like water and fertilizers) AND another window of time to gain from the same piece of land.  So, in this case, faster is better for lots of good reasons.

my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

To Ratoon or Not to Ratoon

However, Jim’s choice will bring deeper gains for his farming operation, but they won’t immediately increase his profits.  When I first heard about Jim’s early rice, I assumed he would try to harvest a rattoon crop, which is a second harvesting of a field that grows and produces again after it has been harvested once.  With minimal financial input, Jim has the opportunity to harvest and make another crop on the same land using the same seed that was planted in the Spring because there’s plenty of warm weather left in the year. 

For the Bigger Good

However, Jim is choosing a higher purpose for his field.  Rather than make a little extra money this year from an additional rice harvest, he plans to plant a cover crop that will be better for the soil, the environment and the waterfowl that will come in the winter.  

a radish from the cover crop 

a radish from the cover crop 

Off Season Work

A cover crop is planted in a field during the off season in order to control weeds, sequester carbon, replenish the nutrients in the soil and establish paths for the roots of the primary crop.  Jim has developed a unique mixture of eight seeds each with a particular purpose:  add nutrients, increase soil health, or provide food for the ducks and geese in the winter.

taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

Crop Rotation Returns

When a field is precision leveled to be a zero-grade rice field, there is no opportunity for crop rotation in that particular field because the land is leveled in such a way that only rice will thrive there.  By planting a cover crop, Jim will now be able to provide the natural enrichment to his soil that crop rotation brings.  

ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

Natural Partnership

Millet, a small-seeded grass grown around the world for cereal, will be part of the cover crop mixture, which will mean the wildlife will have plenty to eat during the winter months.  Rice farmers and wildlife have a great partnership.  While the waterfowl are enjoying the food and water left over in the harvested field, the soil is receiving their natural fertilizers so the crops in the coming Spring will benefit greatly.


So what’s the big deal?  Jim is choosing the long-term benefits to his soil, our environment and the wildlife over the short-term benefit of extra profit this year.  This is just one more example of how agriculture professionals are prioritizing and preserving our natural resources and our food safety.  They are intentionally making decisions because “it’s the right thing to do.” 

Only a Spectator


To be a spectator means you watch an activity without taking part. Even though I become emotionally invested in my sons’ baseball games, I am still only a spectator.  I’m not actually taking part in the game. 


Questioning the Coach

So many times, I have watched a game from the bleachers and questioned the coach in my head: “Why doesn’t he teach him to swing at a perfect pitch like that?” only to find out later that my son was doing exactly what the coach gave him signs to do.  By “taking a pitch” and not swinging, the batter allows his teammate to steal a base and get on second, or at least it works that way in youth baseball.  


Leave it to the Expert

The coach has a plan.  The coach knows more than I do about baseball.  The coach has analyzed the game and all the risks and consequences involved.   Good coaches combine their experience and knowledge to create job security and better opportunities for themselves and their players.


Is Farming a Spectator Sport?

With concerns about food safety and the environment being highlighted today, it seems as though farming has become a bit of a spectator sport.  From the sidelines, many who are removed from agriculture are wanting farmers to go back to the processes used in the twentieth century because they assume they're safer and better for the environment.  Some call for no irrigation so we don’t continue to deplete our water supply.  Others suggest that farmers should never, under any circumstances, use pesticides.  But in the words of Sam Whitaker:  “Everyone would have to grab their hoe and come back to the farm if we revert to the way things were.”  


How Things Were

In the 1900’s, farmers represented 38 percent of the American population, on an average of 147 acres of land.  Today, farmers represent just 2 percent of the American population, on an average of 440 acres of land.  Where did all the farmers go?  The same place I did…. to the city.  


The Faithful Few

Farming practices are continuing to develop, so thankfully the two percent of the population can keep feeding the rest of us.  By perfecting the balance of farming and science, agriculture professionals allow us to continue pursuing our interests and creating new ones.  


Willing Partners

Accountability is a good thing.  As Matt Miles said on his recent video, farmers are implementing better practices today than they were several years ago because the public has asked questions and raised concerns.  


Thoroughly Invested

While this accountability has brought about obvious improvements, as a spectator and one who is not actually taking part in farming, it helps me to remember that the farmer knows more than I do about what is and what isn’t possible in his operation.  He has more experience than I do, and his own natural resources are what he’s investing in order to succeed.  It’s his livelihood.


Farmers are doing their part

Jim Whitaker has developed a section of his rice farm that is irrigated solely by runoff and rain water so he is not using any water from the underground aquifer.  Farmers are quick to tell you that they must follow strict, regulated prescriptions for all fertilizers or chemicals applied to their crops.  Any product they use has been thoroughly tested by the FDA and standardized at a level that is set to be conservatively safe for human consumption.  This process is very similar to the regulations placed on medications here in America.  They keep us safe and healthy.  


Trust the System

The experts are qualified for a reason, and we can't all be experts at everything.  Whether it’s a farmer or a doctor or a coach or a plumber, they are more experienced and better educated on the subject than I am.  They aren’t perfect, but they are professionals who combine their knowledge and experience to benefit all of us.  


Stages of Growth

During the spring planting season as a child, I remember thinking harvest seemed so far away.  “I will be in the second grade by the time the rice will be ready to harvest!  How can Dad spend all that time thinking about one thing?!”  All the stages of growth seemed long and slow.  It felt like the crops would never be ready to harvest.  

There Must be a Better Way

In our microwave society, it’s easy to think that every process can be done quicker if we just put our minds to it.  It sometimes seems as though our knowledge of science should be able to provide short cuts so we can get to the finished product faster.  


young soybeans

young soybeans

You Can't Be Where You're Not

But faster doesn't mean better.  Growth takes time.  There’s no way around it.  Whether it’s physical growth in a plant or intellectual growth in a person, you just can’t be where you’re not ready to be.  When learning a new skill or beginning a new project or entering a new stage of parenthood, it often requires every ounce of mental energy we have to think through decisions.  Nothing comes easily because we don’t have the experience and confidence under our belt to anticipate the results.  Patience is required for ourselves and others to live through situations or get to know new clients or fail at a few tries before we can move forward in confidence.  

stages of cotton:  blooms white,  the bloom turns pink, the boll develops, cotton opens the boll

stages of cotton:  blooms white,  the bloom turns pink, the boll develops, cotton opens the boll

Every Stage Has Value

We, like plants, have to go through all the stages of development.  A cotton plant can’t skip the blooming stage because that’s what brings out the bolls of cotton.  Likewise, a young athlete can’t skip the strengthening stage because that’s when strong muscles and discipline are developed through the hard work.  


a developing cotton boll

a developing cotton boll

Don't Rush the Process

If a farmer tried to harvest cotton before the bolls were fully developed, it would be a mess.  His time and money would be wasted driving the cotton picker over the field getting no results and destroying the maturing plants.  If a gardener tried to harvest cucumbers before they were fully developed, it would be a missed opportunity.  He would waste his time picking off the young produce to get a small, hard, tasteless vegetable that no one wanted to eat.   We can’t rush the process.  Even though these are obvious sceneries, I sometimes find myself rushing the journey through seasons of maturing in my life and the lives of others in an equally absurd way.  

harvesting cotton

harvesting cotton

Multiplication for All

After the plant has sprouted, established a deep root system, grown a strong stalk, and developed fruit, it’s time to mature for harvest.  The multiplication process benefits many. 

harvesting soybeans

harvesting soybeans

It’s the same for people.  After we step into a new project or season of life, learn new processes to establish a strong root system, and weather storms to gain confidence, we are ready to produce fruit.  We are ready to multiply our efforts to benefit others.  

kids playing on a truck full of harvested rice

kids playing on a truck full of harvested rice

Stretch Your Brain

The hard work invested in the process pays off in the end.  Patience is rewarded.  Crops bear fruit and multiply and so do people.  We are never too young or too old to start new projects or tackle new skills.  It's good for our brains to be stretched and challenged-- to remember how to learn something new.  And all those around you benefit from the overflow!  What new things are you learning?  Is there something out there you have always wanted to master?  Take the first step, grow through the process and enjoy the benefits.  You can do it!

Orange Crop Damage: Asian Citrus Psyllid


Oranges at Risk

According to a recent article in Farm Futures by Mike Wilson, orange growers in Florida are caught in a tough situation that could cost them their livelihoods.  A terrible pest called the Asian citrus psyllid is spreading a disease that is plaguing the state’s citrus groves and moving west to Texas and California as well.  

Damaging Disease

This nasty little guy lands on the leaves of the citrus trees and infects them with a bacterial disease.  The disease incubates in the root system and spreads through the trunk, cutting off the flow of nutrients to the fruit.  Obviously, the starving fruit suffers.  It ends ups dry and sour.  That’s definitely not the way consumers have become accustomed to enjoying their delicious Florida oranges.



Good News!

Scientists at Texas A&M University are developing a genetically engineered solution from a spinach gene.  This gene can be inserted in an infected orange tree to create a resistance to the bacteria’s destruction and, therefore, significantly decrease the pesticides that are currently being sprayed on the groves to combat these invasive pests. 


Consumer Confidence?

An extensive report came out recently from the National Academy of Sciences confirming once again the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  So consumers will be thrilled to continue their regular consumption of oranges, right?  Farmers sure hope so!  Despite numerous endorsements and assurances by the science community, the public still seems tentative to let go of  their concerns about GMOs.  Agriculture professionals around the country are spreading the word about this most recent report.  And after reading this thorough report, Mark Lynas, an environmentalist and former anti-GMO activist turned supporter, recently proclaimed "The GMO debate is over -again."  The truth about the  confirmed safety and continued good that are developing from the revolutionary science behind GMOs is slowly seeping out from under the pile of confusion and misinformation.  Scientists, farmers, and environmentalists remain hopeful for long term answers for our environment and our growing population!



Scientific Advancements 

The science behind GMOs is innovative and ingenious.  After watching this short clip, I learned that by isolating individual chromosomes, scientists can speed up and refine the process of managing nature, which people have been doing for thousands of years.  Instead of randomly cross-breeding or blasting plants with radiation and chemicals to break down the DNA, scientists are now able to replace one particular problematic chromosome with a beneficial one and keep the rest of the plant’s DNA intact.  These replacement chromosomes, taken from other naturally occurring organisms, can infuse the plant with characteristics to withstand environmental hardships such as insects, weed competition or even risks from drought and flooding.  


How To Proceed?

So what is a Florida orange grower to do?  His current choices seem to be either  1.) continue pouring money and chemicals into his groves with little results, or  2.) risk consumers’ rejection of a safe product because of misinformation.  What would you do if you were one of these farmers who is caught between a rock and a hard place?

The Threat of Pigweed and Natural GMOs

See that tall weed growing in Layne Miles' soybean field?  That's a pigweed plant, and with all the seeds on the top of it, it can reproduce very quickly to take over a large section of the field.  Weeds compete with the crops for nutrition in the soil and space for receiving sunlight.  The loss of these necessary resources results in unhealthy crops and lower yields.  

Natural Genetic Modification

Watch this short clip and hear Layne use the example of how pigweed has, unfortunately, naturally modified itself to become resistant to common herbicides.  He explains, however, that scientists oversee this very same process in a beneficial way when developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be more tolerant to environmental hardships. 

The Right Thing To Do

If you've watched Sam Whitaker's other videos, you've heard him mention "The right thing to do".  Whitaker Farms places the highest value on making decisions that are the safest and most sustainable for consumers and the environment. 



Watch and listen as Sam talks about their current nutrient management program and the benefits it brings to natural habitat around the world.  

All Work and No Play?

I remember when my brother got our first ATV.   It was a 3-wheeler.  We still have it. 

What's All the Fuss?

I was about 8 years old, and for several weeks, I kept hearing my brothers obsess over getting a 3-wheeler.  I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. 

Helpful Around the Farm

My dad said it could be used to easily ride to different places on the farm and to haul small loads.  But I couldn’t figure out why my brothers were so excited about a new piece of farm equipment.  Then I realized that ATVs aren't meant for all work and no play!

Finally, I Have Some Fun Around Here

Little did I know, it was different than any other “work vehicle” we had ever had.  It was fast and fun!  My first ride was with my dad and I couldn’t believe how exciting it was.  My brothers had had motorcycles for years, but I hadn’t been old enough to ride one.  This was my closest encounter with this kind of adventure.  I couldn't get enough!!

Work and Play

Three-wheelers actually were a huge benefit to our farming operation because they allowed workers to zip around the farm and take people and equipment from one end of a field to another.  They saved everyone lots of steps. 

Earned Freedom

Through the years I progressed in my freedoms with riding 3-wheelers.  First, I drove with my dad sitting behind me on the 3-wheeler.  Then I stepped up to following him on a separate 3-wheeler.  Eventually, if they weren’t being used during working hours, I could ride on my own as long as I stayed within sight of our house. 

Sunday Afternoon Rides

Many Sunday afternoons, my dad and I would go for rides together around the farm and on trails through the woods on our neighbor’s hunting land.  It was one of my favorite things to do as a kid.  The sunshine beaming down and the fresh air blowing my hair felt terrific.  I could get lost in my thoughts for hours.

Improved and Still Fun

Today, the farm has 4-wheelers that are more powerful and more stable than 3-wheelers.  My kids enjoy them as much as I did (and still do).  They love the feeling of independence as they ride on dirt roads far back on the farmland. 


Still Lost in Thought

They love “flying” on them down the runway that the ag planes use.  They love sharing rides together so they can create stories and dreams about what they would do if…..  When we come back to Dallas, they love telling their friends how fast they went and how muddy they got on them.  I loved all those things, too.